About Nevada falls
This very popular hike originates near Happy Isles in eastern Yosemite Valley (shuttle stop #16). The John Muir and Mist Trails offer spectacular, up-close views of two large waterfalls, enjoyable scenery along the Merced River, and unique views across Yosemite Valley. This first paved mile of trail is busiest and accesses the Vernal Fall Footbridge. Almost entirely uphill, you can appreciate views along the way, and during spring, when the water levels are at their peak, you can also glimpse Illillouette Fall from this first section of trail.
You'll find an excellent view of Vernal Fall from the footbridge at 0.8 miles (1.3 km). About 0.2 miles (0.3 km) beyond the bridge, the Mist Trail and the John Muir Trail diverge. To proceed directly to the top of Vernal Fall, follow the Mist Trail 0.5 miles (0.8 km) up a steep granite stairway of over 600 steps. Prepare for slippery footing and a tremendous amount of waterfall spray in spring and early summer (hence the name for this trail!). You will delight in views of Vernal Fall all along this stretch of trail and may even be able to see a rainbow in the spray of the fall. At the top of Vernal Fall, you can experience jaw-dropping views straight down the length of the 317-foot waterfall (please don't cross the railings and use extreme caution while you're near any flowing water or wet rock in this area).
From this point, you can: choose to turn around and head back the way you came; continue up to the next junction (about 0.2 miles / 0.3 km) and take the longer route back via the John Muir Trail; or continue uphill on the Mist Trail to the top of Nevada Fall. If you choose to continue on the Mist Trail, shortly beyond Vernal Fall, you will pass by Emerald Pool and Silver Apron. Both of these look may look inviting on a hot summer’s day, but it is illegal and dangerous to swim here due to the extremely hazardous current.
Continuing along the Mist Trail, you’ll experience another 1.5 miles (2.4 km) of steep, rocky switchbacks in order to reach Nevada Fall. Crashing down 594 feet, this thunderous waterfall is fullest in spring and early summer, and you will find terrific photographic opportunities along this stretch of trail. At the top of the climb, head right to reach the footbridge that crosses the Merced River above the fall, allowing you a closer view of it. Use extreme caution while you're near any flowing water or wet rock in this area.
From here, you can either return down the Mist Trail, or continue over the bridge to the John Muir Trail for an alternate route back to Yosemite Valley. If you choose the John Muir Trail, you will enjoy different scenery, with great views of Liberty Cap and different views of Nevada Fall. The John Muir Trail is longer—approximately 4 miles one-way compared to the Mist Trail’s 2.5 miles (4 km)—so plan accordingly.